CALGARY—On Nov. 27, two progressive darlings—Jagmeet Singh and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—from neighbouring countries got on Twitch to play Among Us, a game of teamwork and betrayal where crew members on a spaceship attempt to identify an imposter trying to sabotage their return to civilization. In other words, another day in progressive politics.
While AOC raised $200,000 for initiatives to address food insecurity, Singh walked away with nothing beyond another touchpoint on which to build his brand. And that’s the problem with his leadership of the NDP: Singh builds a good personal brand at the expense of a cohesive communications strategy and a recognizable progressive platform for the NDP. To be honest, it’s not clear what the party stands for beyond taxing the wealthy and pharmacare, and beyond platitudes, there doesn’t seem to be much in terms of a progressive agenda, at least not an intersectional one.
As I wrote before, Singh had an opportunity to “disrupt Trudeau’s unearned enjoyment of the Black vote, the Indigenous vote, and support of other voters of colour,” as well as youth who are increasingly politically engaged—if not engaged with political parties. The global climate strike last fall was an obstinate demonstration of the importance of climate change in federal politics, showing a definite chasm in political priorities between those who are within the party structure and those who look at politics as tool for improving lives. (I would argue that these two groups are largely distinguished by generation and race, hence my original statement.) The hope was that Singh could galvanize these groups in much the way the Squad (Representatives Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan) have. An additional attribute of the Squad is that they’re unapologetic women who have also used gender to galvanize an intersectional progressive movement in America.
Obviously, that hope for Singh to embody this in Canada was too ambitious and way beyond his skill set.
However, the willingness to sacrifice progressive policies didn’t start with Singh. The NDP’s previous leader, Thomas Mulcair, was more interested in the elusive “electability” than left-wing policies as leader of a progressive party. His right-wing balanced-budget approach and his refusal to attend the women’s debate jilted some long-standing NDP supporters who realized they allowed a fox in the henhouse of their beloved party. An observer at the time tweeted, “@ThomasMulcair should know better than to follow #StephenHarper’s lead on ANYTHING, esp. ducking this debate. @UpforDebate2015 #elxn2015.” CBC’s analysis of the 2015 election found the following: “For every vote the NDP lost between 2011 and 2015, the Liberals gained four.” That resulted in the collapse of support that the party is still struggling to regain. It’s obvious the NDP didn’t want that smoke but got it anyway. How they let the Trudeau-led Liberals consistently outflank them on the left is, frankly, mind-boggling.
Fast forward to the Singh years. In his support of the LNG pipeline fracking project where he characterized the process as one where in “the vast majority of Indigenous elected bands and chiefs have all shown support and the consultation process was done in a very meaningful way,” was highly problematic at best, tone deaf and ignorant at worst. Fracking “is a technique to blast a mixture of water, chemicals, and sand into a well to break apart the rock formations and release previously inaccessible oil and natural gas deposits.” And it’s causing health and environmental concerns in B.C. The Singh-led federal NDP, who were once stalwarts on environmental issues, once again turned their backs on their values to chase “electability” and shore up their economic bonafides, only they stepped in it with Indigenous issues. While Singh praised the LNG consultation process for respecting UNDRIP, he seemed to forget—or ignore—the Wet’suwet’en protests. And he got dragged for it. Former NDP MP Sven Robinson tweeted: “Deeply disappointed in @theJagmeetSingh’s statement on the BC LNG project and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. ‘So in terms of Indigenous sovereignty there is a very clear voice that people want the project…’. This does not respect UNDRIP or SCC decision in Delgamuukw.” When he back peddled on his support for the project, B.C. unions dragged him. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t when you don’t have the intestinal fortitude to choose a side and stick with it.
While Singh peppers his social media with pop culture moments in attempts to attract young voters, he forgets to followup with a cohesive set of policies that they can rally behind. When it comes to standing for those policies in Parliament and within the larger political sphere, he falls flat. For someone who leads a party with more power than its seat total has earned, he’s not holding the minority Liberals to account for many of the progressive policies he purports to stand for. Instead, he is again allowing them to outmanoeuvre him, thereby leaving the Canadian left without leadership or direction.
What the NDP has been to the Canadian left is the saboteur preventing Canadians from entering an equitable civilization. Perhaps it’s time to eject this imposter.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.